Cocoa Power

Apr 2, 2014

Who doesn’t love chocolate? Well, scientists at Virginia Tech have new evidence that one particular ingredient in chocolate could give some people more reason to love it.

Ironic as this sounds at first, scientists at Virginia Tech say compounds in one of the ingredients in chocolate appears to help prevent diabetes and promote weight loss.  Sounds sweet, right?  Actually, it’s just the opposite says Andrew Neilson, Assistant Professor of Food Science and Technology

“We actually study cocoa and that’s the big difference.  You know cocoa from the plant called theobroma cacao in tropical regions of the world and the cocoa powder that’s produced actually has the compounds that we believe have health protective activities “

Like affecting the way our bodies absorb fat and promoting feelings of satiety, but he cautions.

Andrew Neilson
Credit Virginia Tech

“I’m not going to name names but some of my relatives who are saying OK this is great because now I have a justification to eat my chocolate.  No, eat chocolate because you like it, but do so in moderation and look for ways to get cocoa without the added fat and sugar.”

So it’s not like this is that film fantasy future featured in the 1973 comedy “Sleeper,” where it seemed like our dreams of hot fudge sundaes as health food had finally come true.

Nurse: Yes, for breakfast he requested something called wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.
Man: Oh yes, those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life preserving properties.
Nurse: You mean there was no deep fat?  No steak or cream pies?  No… hot fudge?
Man: Those were thought to be unhealthy; precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true.

In fact, what Scientists at Virginia Tech have found to be true from a study of mice published today in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry is one particular compound in the flavonoids in cocoa called oligomeric procyanidins, appear to have the strongest effect on preventing weight gain and diabetes. If scientists can develop a cocoa higher in that compound, it might become way way to prevent them using food, rather than medicine. Next Neilson’s group is recruiting volunteers for a study examining how cocoa influences metabolism in people with high blood glucose levels.

Dr. Neilson’s group is recruiting volunteers for a study examining how cocoa influences metabolism in individuals with high blood glucose levels. Subjects will receive financial compensation and information about their health status. To be included, potential participants must be:

• Adult non-smokers between the ages of 40-75

• Overweight or obese but without any other major medical problems

• Willing to eat a controlled study diet for 4 weeks

If you meet those criteria and are interested in participating in this study, contact the Human Integrative Physiology Laboratory by email at